Q: How much money do I have to spend on clients and prospects? I am fairly new to the business development side of a mid-size agency. Prior to my current position, I worked on several of our key accounts, and focused most of my time on the business of those clients. Only rarely did I have to "wine and dine anyone. I wanted to develop some of my other skills, so when this position on the development side opened up, I thought I'd give it a shot. I imagined that the role would tap my creativity, my powers of persuasion, and my confidence.
Instead, I feel like the only skill I have gained is getting my credit card out of my pocket in the shortest possible time. My job is to try and grow business with existing clients, and to create new client relationships.
But when I approach these contacts, it's as if they see me as the cruise director for their lives. I take them to fancy restaurants and clubs, and they just dive into the fun without ever talking about the business opportunities that I want to discuss.
My boss is kind of shocked at my expenses, especially since there is little corresponding new business to balance it. How can I get control of this situation?
Mr. L, New York
A: Sweetie, it's all about control. You are allowing your clients and prospects to dictate the terms of your meetings. Don't think for a minute that being the nice guy with the open wallet will win you more business.
Your prospects want to know your business proposition before they will agree to anything. And while wining and dining is a necessary function of business development, it is merely a reward for engaging in the proper relationship, not an end in itself.
You must find a way to separate the business from the play. Don't just call up your prospects, suggest a random meeting, and then let them mandate the setting. Call and ask them for a meeting in their office, or in yours, to discuss very specific points on an agenda that you have previously devised. A social outing is really only warranted once you have been able to advance the business partnership.
QI have been working in the corporate communications office of a medical services company for almost a year. The problem is that I inherited a PR agency from my predecessor. This firm has been retained by the company for nearly 18 years, so these people basically think they run the place. The CMO has the agency principal over to her house for dinner - they are that tight with our management. For the first six months, I was actually glad to have their institutional knowledge, but now I am seeing great big gaps in what kinds of things they should be doing and what is actually being done. Not only that, but the company hasn't even reviewed its agency work for almost four years, and their billings reflect more affluent times. How can I tactfully suggest that we should reconsider our relationship without angering my management team?
Ms. D, Atlanta
A: You would not be doing your job properly if you let this situation continue as it is. Without letting on that you are predisposed to fire this agency, you should approach the subject of an agency review with your CMO purely from the financial perspective. Make it clear to her that we are currently operating in a buyers' market. When you and she actually compare what the agency has been providing for its exorbitant fees with the level of service other agencies will provide, I am willing to bet that she will see things your way. Even if she doesn't, you can, at the very least, renegotiate with your current agency and make them understand your expectations.
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